Long reads

How are people teams responding to coronavirus? ...BrewDog

23 Apr 2020 By Maggie Baska

People Management finds out what employers are doing to tackle the logistical, financial and staff wellbeing implications of the global pandemic

The organisation

Founded in 2007, BrewDog is a multinational brewery, distillery and pub chain based in Ellon, Scotland. The company employs about 2,000 people across its various restaurants, bars, pubs, breweries and support centres around the world. 

The impact so far

During the coronavirus pandemic, BrewDog has closed all its pubs and shifted distillery production to making free hand sanitiser for local hospitals and charities. Although restaurants and pubs are closed, BrewDog has still worked to remain connected to its customer base. The brewery now focuses on supplying supermarkets and food retailers with beer for personal consumption, and the business has even created a new beer called Lockdown Lager in homage to the government’s social distancing mandate. BrewDog has also hosted a series of 'virtual pubs' where people can log in for an online tasting session, watch live music or participate in pub quizzes. 

Karen Bates, people director for BrewDog, says the brewery has gone through a rapid transformation in response to the outbreak, with the focus on preserving the business and protecting its people. “Number one was to protect our business because we need to be here at the end of this,” Bates says. “And number two is that we need to protect as many jobs as possible because we’re protecting the livelihoods of our people.”

Furlough and redistribution 

While BrewDog had initially planned to make redundancies, as soon as the government announced its job retention scheme it reversed this decision and put everybody on furlough. “About 70 per cent of our workforce are furloughed across the world,” Bates says.

BrewDog is the biggest employer in Ellon, a town just north of Aberdeen, and it was important to the business to “do the right thing” by the community by preserving jobs, says Bates. 

While some staff were happy to be furloughed and not come into work in order to stay safe, others have now asked to come back to work in the firm’s still operational distilleries. “They’re saying they see what’s going on within the business, and they want to be part of it,” Bates explains. “We’ve even got some of the people in our head office roles who were furloughed to come and work on our production line.”  

It has not, however, been possible to bring everyone back into the workforce due to travel restrictions. Bates says BrewDog has worked diligently to keep open lines of communication with all furloughed staff, including blog posts, weekly updates on the business, pub quizzes and even sending a crate of beer to staff who can no longer work.

Health and safety

From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, health and safety of staff was a priority and BrewDog quickly closed restaurants and pubs to the public to protect staff. At first it offered an online ordering service, but this was shut down shortly after as staff were still concerned they could be at risk.

Bates says BrewDog has also introduced social distancing within the factory; crates have been placed at every stage of the production line so staff can keep a safe distance from one another. “We’ve been really creative about how to help staff feel safe in the brewery and distillery,” Bates says. “One of our founders, James Watt, even shared a tutorial on how we’ve been making face visors for our production staff using a laminator and elastic bands.

“It’s not like in supermarkets where you can easily not pay attention to the lines on the floor,” Bates explains. “You can’t do that at our site without hurdling over crates.”

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